U.S. Women's National Team
Carli Lloyd Scores Three as U.S. Crushes Ireland, 5-0
January 24, 2016
IN ITS LONE 2016 WARM-UP before Olympic qualifying begins next month, the United States women’s national team smashed the Republic of Ireland 5-0 on Saturday afternoon in San Diego.
Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick while Alex Morgan and 17-year-old debutant Mallory Pugh both tallied for the U.S. in the contest. Morgan also earned her 100th cap.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
LLOYD IS THE U.S. ATTACK RIGHT NOW
In the first half of 2015, the U.S. offense struggled—a trend that continued well into the World Cup tournament this past summer. Then, after the group-stage, head coach Jill Ellis finally took the shackles off Lloyd and the No. 10 went on to score in each of the team’s four knockout round games—including her hat trick in the final against Japan.
In total, Lloyd finished the 2015 calendar year with 18 goals—leading the team—and won FIFA Player of the Year honors in the process. On Saturday, Lloyd once again proved why she is the key to the U.S.’ offense, registering an assist to go with her three goals.
Especially considering the recent goal-scoring woes of her fellow American attackers, the U.S. needs Lloyd now more than ever.
HORAN SET TO START IN QUALIFYING
One of the more interesting decisions Ellis has made in this recent stretch of games in preparation for Olympic qualifying has been her use of Lindsey Horan.
Horan first gained notice when she became the first American woman to skip college and go pro right out high school, signing for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. However, over her three-and-a-half years playing in France—and sometimes directly because of it—U.S. coaches often left Horan off the roster for training camps.
Then, after going nearly two years without a cap, Ellis brought Horan back into the fold last October and started her against Brazil. Horan played as a forward in that contest, the same position she played for the U.S. U-20s and at PSG. But even more surprising than the call-up and start was what happened next.
In the absence of a retired Lauren Holiday and needing a center midfield replacement in order to keep Lloyd pushed high into the attack, Ellis dropped Horan into the midfield against Trinidad and Tobago and for a doubleheader against China. Many had speculated that Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Sam Mewis, Danielle Colaprico, or Rose Lavelle might be Holiday’s replacement, but they were all wrong.
Against Ireland on Saturday, Horan started her fourth match in a row as a center midfielder and looks set to keep the position as the team heads into Olympic qualifying.
Up to this point, Horan has put in a series of mixed performances. At times, she has displayed some quality attacking skill. At other times, she has looked uncomfortable in possession under pressure.
The difficultly for Ellis, or any pundit trying to assess Horan’s ability at the new position, has been the quality, or lack thereof, of the U.S.’ recent opponents. The Americans trounced Trinidad 6-0 and beat China 2-0 before losing 1-0 to the Steel Roses in a sloppy rematch when most of the focus was no doubt on the festivities surrounding Abby Wambach’s last match.
Over the next month, the U.S.' competition won’t improve much. It will play Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico in Olympic qualifying, likely followed by another CONCACAF minnow in the semifinals and a Canadian side in the finals that has trended downward over the past few years.
Luckily for the Yanks the level of competition will improve in March when the team hosts Germany, France, and England (ranked No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5 in the world, respectively) in the SheBelieves Cup. It might not be until then that Ellis can truly evaluate Horan’s usefulness as a center midfielder.
PICKING A ROSTER FOR QUALIFYING
The most difficult decision for Ellis over the next few days will be picking her 20-player roster for Olympic qualifying. While the coach called in 26 players for this most recent camp, she can only roster 20 for the qualifying tournament.
Considering their lack of recent playing time, Ellis’ first cuts are likely to be Adrianna Franch, Danielle Colaprico, and Rose Lavelle.
It’s also safe to assume that Ellis will keep Hope Solo, Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Christen Press.
That leaves eight remaining players in competition for five roster spots: Whitney Engen, Emily Sonnett, Jaelene Hinkle, Sam Mewis, Mallory Pugh, Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux, and Stephanie McCaffrey.
Ellis will likely bring three center backs for qualifying, meaning that Engen and Sonnett are in direct competition with one another for the final spot. Both started on Saturday in the absence of Johnston and Sauerbrunn—who are both dealing with minor injuries. Neither Engen nor Sonnett was tested, but Engen looked the rustier of the two, not surprising considering Saturday was her first competitive game—for club or country—since September.
Hinkle has shown well over the last few games, and certainly might be included in the final roster, but is by no means a necessity considering the team’s overwhelming depth at outside back. Stephanie McCaffrey is in a similar position. While she has displayed some dazzling 1 v. 1 skills in the team’s last few friendlies, the U.S. already has multiple players who are more than capable on the wing.
Mewis received a rare start on Saturday—only the second of her young career—in place of Brian, who was out injured. But that start also illustrated exactly why Mewis should make the roster: the U.S. is simply too thin at center-mid without her. Multiple experiments over the past few months, including using Klingenberg at the position on Saturday, have not fared particularly well and the Americans simply need a fourth center midfielder on the roster.
Finally, there is Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux, and Mallory Pugh. Ellis should take O’Reilly simply for her veteran leadership. Leroux, on the other hand, is a more difficult decision. While she is a World Cup and Olympic veteran, she spent the latter half of 2014 and nearly all of 2015 either in a slump or injured. Her last substantive minutes were in the group stage of the World Cup.
However, even with Press and Morgan likely to get all available minutes up top, Ellis will still likely want one more forward on the roster and it’s difficult to see how the coach would choose the 17-year-old over Leroux.
Ellis is expected to make her final decision in the next 24 hours.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.